23rd Mar 2018

Riga says it can handle expense of being EU Capital of Culture

  • Riga will be EU capital of culture in 2014 (Photo: Dan Silver)

Despite slashed budgets and economic woes, Latvia's capital, Riga, is confident of being able to raise the necessary funding for a series of cultural events in 2014, when it is due to become the European capital of culture, its mayor told this website.

"We are obviously affected by the economic crisis, our budget was slashed by 30 percent on the expenditure side and of course the cultural sector is under-financed. But we would like to use this event to gather money for the cultural infrastructure, which will attract more tourists and have a positive impact on our economy," Nils Usakovs, the mayor of Riga told EUobserver on the fringes of a conference marking the 25 anniversary of the so-called European capital of culture scheme.

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The one-year label is awarded annually to one or several cities who plan a series of cultural events which highlight local traditions, tolerance, and encourage "a sense of belonging to the same European family."

The European Commission contributes €1.5 million to each capital of culture, but the bulk of the expenditure – roughly 80 percent – is taken up by the respective townhall and national government.

Riga was selected last year, together with the Swedish city of Umea, to be both capitals of culture in 2014.

Another Baltic capital – Vilnius of neighbouring Lithuania – carried this label last year. But the fallout of the economic crisis saw many projects downsized or slashed altogether.

"Vilnius was a catastrophe – they were not able to raise the money for the projects," said Robert Scott, head of the selection panel, while raising the question of more EU involvement and assistance when cash-strapped municipalities are not able to deliver on the promises made years before.

Political divergencies between the government and the local administration in Vilnius also added to the mix, as well as the bankruptcy of the main airliner, which isolated the city from its potential visitors.

Mr Usakovs rejected the idea that his city would follow a similar pattern. The biggest among the three Baltic capitals, Riga should be able to attract more sponsors and companies in funding this event, he said.

The Latvian politician also pledged to stay out of any decisions on the content of the exhibitions, concerts and art fairs.

"Us politicians shouldn't mess up the cultural programme, so we have selected innovative people, real artists, and we rely on them. Our job is to deal with the private sector, sponsorships, working with the airport, the airlines, finding money in advertising the city," he said.

The EU commission also encourages local and national politicians to stay out of taking decisions on the content of the projects – one of the issues which seems to have been the case in Lithuania last year.

As for the national audit carried out in Vilnius after allegation of misused funds, the EU executive is not aware of any problems regarding the community money.

"It was just bad timing, due to the economic crisis Vilnius wasn't able to profit as much from this scheme as other cities did in the past," Dennis Abbott, a spokesman for the EU culture commissioner told this website.

A study carried out by the commission for the 1995-2004 period showed that the tourism industry benefits the most from the scheme, with an average increase of 12 percent in overnights stays per city when compared to the previous year. The year following the event, the number of overnights stays is higher than the level before the event as well.

This year's capitals of culture are Istanbul (Turkey), Essen for the Ruhr (Germany) and Pecs (Hungary).


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